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Devils Adapt program graduates its first group of adaptive athletes

November 15, 2018

Classes wrap up every semester, but one fall class at ASU ended with more fanfare than usual. Six athletes and nine student trainers celebrated completing the inaugural class of a new program that is committed to empowering athletes with disabilities.

The adaptive training class was developed through a partnership between ASU and the Adaptive Training Foundation. The class included training for instructors and athletes and the addition of a new Adaptive Training Zone at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex on ASU’s Tempe campus: a room with accessible and adaptable equipment.

Adaptive athletes move on the SDFC field in wheelchairs and with prosthetic limbs

Senior Carly Verbeke, an athlete studying English, disability studies and political science, had been training with the Sun Devil Fitness Complex since 2017, but there were only three exercises she could do before the new program and facilities opened in fall 2018. Verbeke, who has cerebral palsy, heard about the program through her trainer at the time, and she has loved testing her limits.

“I’m really proud of the progress that I have made. I push myself farther every single day and see where I can go, and I’ve gotten a lot farther in the past nine weeks than I thought I could,” she said.

She may even try to register for the class again in the spring. “I fell in love with what I found out I can do, and I want to keep pushing those boundaries,” she said.

Some of the boundaries were emotional. Verbeke has become good friends with her trainer, Sadie Foley, though both say it took a little time to develop the relationship. “Just because of what I’ve been through, it takes some time,” Verbeke said.

Foley, a senior studying entrepreneurship and health and wellness, said one of the most rewarding things about participating in the program as a trainer is her friendship with Verbeke. They spend their training time catching up on what tests are coming up, high fiving and laughing together — a lot. Verbeke’s favorite exercise now is pulling Foley through the Adaptive Training Zone on a weightlifting sled.

“Even if your degree or career path isn’t necessarily in the [physical] training field, there are a lot of benefits,” Foley said. “Being a trainer, having that experience of building relationships, teaches you a lot.”

The fast friendship Verbeke and Foley developed was common within the program because of the community atmosphere and outings. In addition to  workouts three times a week at the SDFC, the group of athletes and trainers also did athletic outings such as going to Top Golf and adaptive paddle boarding.  

Besides the great connections, Foley says the program has also been a good experience for her career. “Being an entrepreneurship major, I’m looking to start my own business in the fitness industry, and this program was a startup in the industry I want to go in,” she said.

She knows a lot of service members and veterans personally, and since the program was created with veterans in mind, she felt a strong connection to the mission. Foley plans to pursue a master’s degree in nutrition and work for a similar organization.

Jason Hill, a trainer and a senior studying exercise physiology, also hopes to stay involved with the program professionally after graduation. Hill was selected for an internship with the Adaptive Training Foundation at their headquarters in Dallas. There, he saw how athletes dealt with trauma and  “learned how they train and what their philosophy was and came back and tried to implement it here” in Tempe. Once he returned to Tempe, he was named lead trainer of the program.

“My goal is to stay here after I graduate and keep the program going or go back to Dallas,” he said. “I fell in love with it after I was out in Dallas for the two months, so that is something that I want my career to be in. I have given guest lectures about it. It is definitely something I want to keep doing.”

Courtney Spivak Smith, the associate director of Sun Devil Fitness, said her favorite thing about seeing the class come to fruition was seeing the progress the group made and how they bonded over the highs and lows.

“I hope that the athletes and trainers walk away with a new understanding of people’s resiliency and strength. I believe they will see the benefits of this program, not only in what they are learning from one another, but also in the community that they are forming,” she said.

The program is continuing in spring 2019. Most athletes in the first class were adapting for diseases that have taken a toll on students’ physical abilities, and future classes will likely include more veterans. Regardless, adaptive athletes and trainers at ASU will find new resources and community building through Devils Adapt.